When most people are told that they have a 90 percent chance they may have cancer, there are a whole range of reactions. I understand that a lot of people blame God and wonder why them. To me, that is such a foreign way to react since I try to have a daily walk with Him. I say try because I am still human and do not live in a perfect world. When I was told that I have a mass on my left kidney, of course there was concern and some anxiety. When the following CT Scans proved the first findings were true, the anxiety increased, but I never lost Faith and tried to blame God. My reaction was somewhat the opposite, there was a touch of excitement as to how God will use this, use me as an example for others.
One morning I woke up with severe pain in my abdomen. Jennifer took me to the emergency room. At the ER, they had me do a CT Scan to see if it may be a kidney stone. Jennifer and I were waiting inside the ER when the Doctor came in. he said "we confirmed you have a kidney stone from your right kidney. Oh by the way, you have a mass on your left kidney. You might want to get that checked out." When he left, Jennifer and I stared at each other in disbelief. The pain from the stone was gone and I do not recall passing it. I have never had a kidney stone before this or since. I believe that stone was a gift from God to let me find the real problem in the other kidney.
I have the privilege of knowing a good friend who works as an Anesthesiologist at MD Anderson in Houston. I contacted him about this and he directed me on how to get an appointment, which Doctor to ask for, what to expect, etc…. I met with the Doctor a couple of weeks later and the appointment was made for the surgery two weeks after that. I asked my friend if he would be my anesthesiologist, and he responded that it would be his privilege. I had asked him this via cell phone text and afterwards I thought how impersonal texting was. I later called him to talk about this and afterwards I thought about the texting verses talking. I came to the conclusion that modern technology has robbed us as a society of the personal touch of communicating, even though it may be more convenient. Anyway, I digress.
Surgery day came and as I prepared to go to MD Anderson, I admit there was some anxiety for the unknown, but I had a peace that I can’t explain. I knew God had this under control; in fact He created everything so he can take care of this cancer. As I was prepped for surgery, seeing the familiar face of my old friend really helped me deal with the situation. Since MD Anderson is a teaching facility, he had students there and I agreed to let the students do the actual work of setting up for the anesthesia. There is something about laying on a gurney being prepped for cancer surgery that makes everything else in life seems so trivial. The things I took for granted like family became the number one most important factor in my life. My wife Jennifer never left my side until she was directed to do so by the staff. My Mom and Dad was there too but were in the waiting room outside. I was glad that Jennifer would not be alone during this time.
I was wheeled into the surgery area and I recall seeing the big lights above the table. I recall being moved to the table, but that is all I remember. It seemed to me to be just a minute or so to when I started to wake up. The first face I saw was my old friend working to set up the IVs for recovery. I said that I really hurt and my friend said, “You have a button in your hand, when you feel pain, just press the button”. Jennifer was also there and she said I started pressing the button and did not stop pressing it. Even though the button would administer the morphine about every 20 minutes when the button was pressed I guess it was a calming factor to be able to press it as many times as I wanted. To me the recovery must have been about an hour or so, but Jennifer said I was in there about six hours. She also said that my surgery took about 90 minutes. The Doctor talked with Jennifer and my parents and said that they got the entire mass out with clear margins. Jennifer mentioned that it did not seem like it took a long time. He responded that he had done a few of these surgeries before.
That night in my room, I was hooked up to several different machines. Jennifer stayed with me trying to get some sleep in the chair. One machine had an alarm that would go off every time I fell asleep. The nurse would come in the room to shut the alarm off and reset the machine. She told us that it was an oxygen machine and when it detected that I was not breathing, it would sound the alarm. After about the third time the alarm sounded I yelled out that “I am breathing!” The nurse finally disconnected that machine so Jennifer and I could get some sleep.
The next day seemed like such a haze for me, I guess any major surgery has that affect. When the nurse came in and said that I needed to get up and walk, I thought she was joking. She was not. Jennifer helped me walk around the nurses’ station. I had to do this several times during the day. The next day they wanted me to walk even more so we eventually ventured further out. For the next three days we explored the nearby areas. Jennifer never left my side, neither did God. I recall thanking Him all through this ordeal. I guess that may seem foreign to some people that I should be thanking Him for my situation but it was the most natural thing for me.
One time on one of our walks we decided to go to the store that was not too far away. MD Anderson is like a small city inside the connected buildings. When the elevator door opened for us to go to the floor where the store is located I thought it was interesting the people's reaction inside the elevator had when they saw us. I was pushing my IV pole and probably looked like I had fought a battle. The people parted ways and made room for us to enter the elevator. I got the sense that they may have thought that I was a walking dead man, after all this was MD Anderson where only those with cancer are patients.
The days following the surgery, I started to wean myself off the morphine because I figured that was my ticket to go home. By the fourth day, I had stopped using the morphine and stayed out of the bed as much as possible so maybe I could go home. When the Doctor’s Assistant checked on me he mentioned that I had not been using the pain drug and I said that maybe they could let me go home now. He responded that he would be surprised if my Doctor would release me that early and I would probably be there for another couple of days. Not long after that, my Doctor along with the Assistant and a couple of other people who I guessed were students came in. The Doctor smiled and asked if I would like to go home. I said I was ready. That smile was the first time I had seen the Doctor smile the whole time I knew him. I guess Oncology is not an easy job but when there is success; that is something to smile about.
Recovery at home was slow. I was home for six weeks before I could go back to work. After all, I was split almost in half for surgery. I have the foot long scar on my left side to prove that. One time, I was the only one at home, I was walking to my bedroom when out of nowhere, I sneezed. I ended up on the floor in a ball because of the pain that sneeze caused. Wow, be sure to never sneeze again! Each day I would extend my daily walks around the neighborhood. I was getting stronger every day.
As I look back on that experience, I see Gods hand in it; from finding the cancer early enough to get rid of it by surgery, to the people who were there for me. I had RCC, (Renal Cell Carcinoma) that was able to be removed with clear margins by removing part of my left kidney. I owe Jennifer so much for always being there for me. I think she only went home once during that time.
I go back once a year for CT Scans and each year they are clear. One time after seeing the Doctor for that year’s results, I was in the store at MD Anderson when I called my Mom to let her know the news. When I said that my scans were clear, a lady nearby said, “Praise God!” I agreed. I recently passed my five year mark with clear scans so I am now officially a ‘Cancer Survivor’.
Today, when I hear of someone who finds out that they may or may not have cancer, I can talk with them and say, ‘I have been there and understand the anxiety. I have been on the gurney not knowing what the next day may bring. With God, through Jesus Christ you too can have the peace I had.’